The Harvard Alumni Association backs Claudine Gay “unanimously and unequivocally”

The Harvard University Alumni Association’s Executive Committee declared on Monday that they fully support President Claudine Gay.

The group’s support coincides with the expectation that the Harvard Corporation, one of the governing bodies overseeing the university, will make an announcement regarding Gay’s future on Tuesday, a source familiar with the university’s internal deliberations told CNN.

There is a growing chorus of support from Harvard’s community, which may help her weather the storm of pressure to quit or face termination from the school administration. Gay’s abilities to mediate disputes between Israelis and Palestinians, her interactions with the community, alumni leaders, and supporters, as well as her “empathetic, moral, and skilled leadership,” were highlighted in a petition that was signed by hundreds of faculty members. More than eight hundred Black alumni also signed a statement endorsing Gay’s “commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and racism” while deliberating over complex matters.

Due to Gay’s inability to forcefully reject threats of violence against Jewish students during the heated congressional hearing of three university presidents last week, which resulted in University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill’s resignation on Saturday, requests have been made for her removal.

The group sent a statement to university administrators stating, “President Gay is the right leader to guide the University during this challenging time.” She is considerate. She is good-hearted. She has a strong commitment to the development and welfare of our diverse community. We acknowledge that her testimony from last week left us feeling let down. President Gay has acknowledged this and expressed regret for any hurt her testimony may have caused. This is a striking example of her courage, tenacity, and honesty.

In her appearance before a House committee on December 5, Gay, Magill, and MIT President Sally Kornbluth all neglected to state clearly that calling for the murder of Jews would be against the conduct rules of their respective institutions. Gay apologized last week for this omission.

Although recent allegations of antisemitism at Penn were deemed to be significantly worse, Harvard has struggled to contain an increase in anti-Semitic occurrences on campus. Nevertheless, a rising number of influential figures, including funders and members of Congress, have called for Gay’s resignation.

‘One down. Two to go’

“One eliminated. Republican Representative Elise Stefanik of New York said on Saturday on X, formerly known as Twitter, referring to Gay and Kornbluth as the “two to go.” “In the instance of @Harvard, I questioned President Gay seventeen times about whether advocating for the extermination of Jews is against Harvard’s code of conduct. She gave her truth 17 times. The world took notice.

Stefanik wrote a letter to the governing boards of MIT, Harvard, and Penn, pushing them to dismiss their institution leaders, along with 71 other lawmakers from both parties.

Meanwhile, a petition supporting Gay has garnered the signatures of over 700 Harvard faculty members. Moreover, Gay’s attempts to “build a stronger, more inclusive community at our alma matter while balancing the critical principals of free thought and free speech” have received the “unequivocal support” of over 800 Black alumni.

Gay issued an apology for what she said in front of Congress. She apologized in a Thursday interview with The Harvard Crimson. “Words matter.”

Gay told the student newspaper, “I got caught up in what had become, at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures.” “In that situation, I ought to have had the foresight to go back to my guiding principle, which states that threats or demands for violence against the Jewish community at Harvard have no place there and will always be met with resistance.

However, a few significant donors remained undeterred, most notably Bill Ackman, the millionaire CEO of a hedge fund and one of Gay’s most outspoken detractors.

In an open letter to Harvard’s governing board on Sunday, Ackman stated, “Jewish students, faculty, and others are fearful for their own safety as a result of President Gay’s failure to enforce Harvard’s own rules as even the physical abuse of students remains unpunished.” Would Harvard consider Claudine Gay for the role in light of what we now know? Without a doubt, the response is “No.” The board’s choice on President Gay could not more clearer after doing this easy mental exercise.

As a result of the terror assaults by Hamas on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent strikes on Gaza, Harvard is among several academic institutions that have faced criticism in recent months over alleged antisemitism on campuses. The Department of Education has opened an investigation into 14 universities, including Harvard, “for discrimination involving shared ancestry”—a broad word that encompasses both antisemitism and Islamophobia—following the attacks.

It was unclear whether other presidents would step down in the wake of Magill’s resignation. MIT’s president is on board: The governing body of MIT, the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, declared this week that they back President Sally Kornbluth “full and unreservedly.”

Gay’s approach

After serving as dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Gay, a political scientist whose research focuses on the intersections of politics and race, was sworn in as the university’s thirty-first president in July.

Magill faced criticism months before she resigned, unlike Gay. Since the university permitted speakers who Penn’s management admitted had a history of uttering antisemitic sentiments to participate in the “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” on campus in September, donors have been demanding for Magill’s resignation. The start of the current Israel-Hamas conflict heightened already-existing tensions.

Gay has also acknowledged Jewish students’ concerns outspokenly.

A coalition of student organizations issued a statement on October 7 accusing Israel’s government of being behind Hamas’s attacks. Business executives and alumni vehemently denounced the letter, demanding that the students whose clubs signed it be banned. Later, in a statement, a coalition spokesman said that the organization “staunchly opposes violence against civilians — Palestinian, Israeli, or other.”

A statement denouncing the “terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas” and reiterating that “no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership” was issued by Gay three days after the coalition posted its letter.

Gay revealed that she had put together an advisory group of “faculty, staff, alumni, and religious leaders from the Jewish community” in a speech at the Harvard Jewish student organization in late October. This group, she said, “will help us to think expansively and concretely about all the ways that antisemitism shows up on our campus and in our campus culture.”

That hasn’t made Gay less prone to criticism, but whether or not she finally stands down may depend on how ready she is to accept responsibility when faced with it.

Different forms of community backlash exist

Alumni and business leaders have chastised Gay and her colleagues for what they see as their inactivity against antisemitism on college campuses. Ackman asked that Gay, Magill, and Kornbluth “resign in disgrace” when Gay testified before Congress, noting her unhappiness with their testimony.

Harvard alumna Ackman has also questioned Gay’s morality and academic integrity, sharing on social media posts suggesting that the first Black woman to manage Harvard, Gay, was selected merely to meet diversity targets.

Ackman claimed in his open letter on Sunday that Gay was the person who had done the most harm to Harvard’s image throughout its existence.

“President Gay ignited an unprecedented wave of antisemitism and hate on campus that is unprecedented in Harvard’s history because of her failure to condemn the most vile and barbaric terrorism the world has ever seen, for her other leadership failures, and for her support of 34 Harvard-branded student organizations that hold Israel “entirely responsible” for Hamas’ barbaric acts,” Ackman wrote.

However, the majority of Harvard’s community criticism has characterized campus discrimination as a structural problem rather than a moral failing on Gay’s behalf. After hearing Gay’s testimony, Rabbi David Wolpe announced his resignation from the Harvard antisemitism advisory group last week. He stated that opposing the ideologies at Harvard that portray Jews as oppressors while “belittling and denying the Jewish experience… is the work of more than a committee or a single university.”

He emphasized that he thinks Gay is “both a kind and thoughtful person,” and then stated, “It is not going to be changed by hiring or firing a single person.”

More than 1,800 alumni contributors wrote an open letter to Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, urging the college to implement real reforms to protect Jews on campus. The donors also threatened to withhold their gifts if no action was taken.

Faculty pledge support for Gay

More than 700 Harvard academic members have signed a petition as of Monday am pleading with school administrators to oppose calls for Gay’s dismissal. The Harvard annual report for 2023 states that there are 403 tenure-track faculty members in addition to 1,068 tenured faculty members.

In the petition, the faculty signatories pleaded with you to “defend the university’s independence and resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom, including calls for President Claudine Gay’s removal.” “If we allow outside forces to dictate the culture of free inquiry in our diverse community, the critical work of defending it cannot proceed.”

In recent days, several academics have also used social media to show their support for Gay.

There is actual anti-Semitism at Harvard. However, calls for President Gay to step down are misplaced because this problem is systemic, according to a post on X by computer science professor Boaz Barak.

Jason Furman, an economic policy professor and the former chair of the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers, wrote, “I really hope we don’t let donors & politicians dictate who leads our school.” Gay also denounced calls for genocide prior to, during, and following the congressional hearing.

“I hope the appreciation by President Gay of the key issues will rise to a new level, and emerge as a coherent set of approaches to strengthen the @Harvard community as bastion for free speech, academic freedom, and civil discourse,” stated former dean of the Harvard Medical School Jeffrey Flier in a post on X.